O'Malley Touts Offshore Wind Farms

Capital News Service
Thursday, March 3, 2011

ANNAPOLIS -- Gov. Martin O'Malley told legislators in the House Economic Matters Committee Thursday that offshore wind energy would create jobs and help the environment.

House Bill 1054 would contractually obligate utility companies to purchase some energy from offshore wind production companies for at least 20 years once wind turbines are built. If passed, local steel workers and energy companies are hoping to build the windmills in the Atlantic Ocean, about 12 miles offshore of Ocean City.

O'Malley said the cost to implement the bill would be worth it.

"This I believe is a reasonable risk to take, if we believe that in fact, greenhouse gas emissions won't reduce themselves on their own and if we believe that in this competition for jobs, Maryland is worth fighting for," O'Malley said outside the hearing room.

But many utility companies and some business organizations are against the bill, telling the committee that it would give unfair advantage to some companies.

"Are you going to pick out a couple select winners and subsidize them - that's what this is really about," said Glen Thomas, president of GT Power Group.

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce, Maryland Conservation Council, Maryland Farm Bureau and Maryland Energy Group also filed statements against the bill.

There's already a dispute about how much the bill would cost energy consumers. A Department of Legislative Services fiscal and policy note estimates that residential consumers will see rate increases of about $3.61 a month in 2016.

But O'Malley and his team believe it would actually cost consumers $1.44 more each month.

"It's a minimal amount of dollars we're talking about, the equivalent of two 60-watt light bulbs a month," O'Malley said. "And over the long-term it actually reduces the cost to consumers if we assume that the cost of fossil fuels and that commodity price will actually continue to go up, as it has since the beginning of time."

A group of union members hoping to be hired to build the turbines came to the meeting in support of the bill, wearing green T-shirts that read, "Jobs Jobs Jobs."

"We have better quality products and we make a good quality steel," said Bruce Baldwin, 58, lamenting how many manufacturing jobs have moved overseas.

The steel workers were joined in support by environmental groups like the Sierra Club, Environment Maryland and Maryland's National Wildlife Federation.

The Sierra Club said the average homeowner's utility bill increase will be negligible.

"It's worth it in the long run," said David O'Leary, the Sierra Club's Maryland Conservation Chair.